Union County Highway Department head Jeff Bowers brought two bids to the commissioners’ meeting Feb. 19, submitted to perform county paving projects funded, in part, by Indiana Department of Transportation’s Community Crossing Matching Grant program.

Union County was awarded $989,880 in the second round of 2020 grant funding, covering 75 percent of the project’s cost. Bowers solicited bids from three contractors, Dave O’Mara Contractor, Inc of North Vernon and Robertson Paving of Flat Rock submitted bids, but Milestone Contractors of Richmond replied they were unable to submit a bid due to a full schedule of projects with INDOT. Bowers explained federal grant projects require the recipient to seek three bids, he can submit the two returned bids and documentation showing a third bid was sought.

O’Mara offered a bid of $1.226 million and Robertson a bid of $1.768 million to pave a series of country roads, totaling just under 16 miles. Commissioner Howard Curry made a motion to accept O’Mara’s bid, commission president Paul Wiwi seconded and commissioners voted to approve unanimously.

The project includes Patterson Road from Old Brownsville Road to Clifton Road, Clifton Road from Brownsville to U.S. 27, Philomath Road from Jobe Road to the county line, Brownsville Road from N 2nd Street to Clifton Road, Swafford Road from S.R. 44 E to C.R. 200 N and Hoppes Road from S.R. 101 to the dead end.

Also discussed:
-North Mechanical Contracting & Service of Indianapolis sent in a bid to replace controllers for the Union County Courthouse’s HVAC system for $80,426. Culy Mechanical Electrical of Hagerstown, the system’s current service provider, offered a bid of $58,000 to replace the controllers in January.
Curry made a motion to accept the Culy bid of $58,000; commissioners voted to approve. In addition, commissioners approved a $4,798 maintenance bid from Culy.

Williams noted he and Curry had sought bids from local HVAC contractors in the past, but those contractors chose not to bid as the 35,000-square foot courthouse is beyond the scope of their expertise.

-Commissioners discussed a $12,000 bid to remove the old radio tower adjacent to the Union County Sheriff’s Department. Part of the high price is due to wire tracing needed to ensure all cables can be safely cut before removing the tower. The contractor did not send an itemized quote. Williams has been trying to get a quote just for the wire tracing. Bowers suggested the highway department’s Gradall crane could bring down the structure once wires are cut.

-Commissioners reviewed an application submitted for part-time work at the county transfer station; the board decided to move forward with the applicant.
-Curry had contacted Union County Health Department public health nurse Kim Klein about reopening the courthouse to the public; she did not see a problem with reopening. Wiwi had asked auditor Cheryl Begley to survey courthouse employees about opening. She reported responses were evenly spread between yeses, noes and indifferent. Wiwi suggested opening the courthouse March 1. Williams and Curry agreed. Courthouse offices have acrylic barriers at their counters and masks are required.

-Wiwi opened a discussion concerning renewable energy projects around Union County, specifically a petition from local citizens opposing a proposed commercial solar installation in Preble County, Ohio. While all solar equipment would be located in Ohio, the project would involve running utility lines into Indiana.

Union County Area Planning executive director Jeff Mathews explained when he first started working in area planning, the three biggest areas of concern, from a zoning perspective, were confined animal feeding operations (CAFO), wind energy and solar energy. The zoning ordinance has been updated to include, and regulate, CAFOs. The area planning commission decided not to address wind energy because Union County has very little land where wind energy would be economically feasible, only a one-quarter mile strip along the northern county line. The county currently does not have an ordinance for solar energy; any proposed project would go through a hearing before the board of zoning appeals.

Williams noted some residents had voiced concern over runoff from the solar installation; he had discussed it with the county’s legal counsel, who found no available recourse because it is private property and in another state. Likewise, there is little the county could do to stop transmission lines being installed.

The discussion moved to the potential for large, commercial solar installations to develop in Union County. Mathews explained the companies that go into rural communities looking to sign leases and develop commercial solar sites typically sell the lease to other solar companies. Curry likened them to headhunters. Algonquin Powerfund is currently working to acquire the Preble County site and Indiana-based transmission lines from Angelina Solar I.